Monday, June 25, 2007

Phillip Melanchthon and the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession -- June 25

Phillip Melanchthon in Loci Communes writes:

Just as the law is that by which the right is enjoined, and by which sin is made manifest, so also the gospel is the promise of the grace and mercy of God, and therefore the forgiveness of sin and the testimony of God's benevolence toward us. Our minds assured of God's benevolence by this testimony believe that He has forgiven all guilt; and being this elevated, love and praise God and are exceedingly joyful and rejoice in God.... Moreover Christ is the pledge of all these promises; wherefore all scriptural promises must be referred to him, who at first obscurely, but later more clearly has been revealed in them.
On the Meaning of the Gospel

And in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Since we obtain justification through a free promise, however, it follows that we cannot justify ourselves. Otherwise, why would a promise be necessary? The Gospel is, strictly speaking, the promise of forgiveness of sins and justification because of Christ. Since we can accept this promise only by faith, the Gospel proclaims the righteousness of faith in Christ, which the law does not teach. And this is not the righteousness of the law. For the law requires our own works and our own perfection. But to us, oppressed by sin and death, the promise freely offers reconciliation for Christ's sake, which we do not accept by works but by faith alone. This faith brings to God a trust not in our own merits, but only in the promise of mercy in Christ. Therefore, when a man believes that his sins are forgiven because of Christ and that God is reconciled and favorably disposed to him because of Christ, this personal faith obtains the forgiveness of sins and justifies us. In penitence and the terrors of conscience it consoles and encourages our hearts. Thus it regenerates us and brings us the Holy Spirit, so that we can finally obey God's law, love him and truly fear him, be sure that he hears us, and obey him in all afflictions. It mortifies our lust. By freely accepting the forgiveness of sins, faith sets against God's wrath not our merits of love, but Christ the mediator and propitiator. This faith is the true knowledge of Christ, it uses his blessings, it regenerates our hearts, it precedes our keeping of the law.
Article IV On Justification

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Who said this????

I am excerpting several quotes from an interview that a friend (thanks Carter!) sent me. I was immediately impressed by the language used here:

Excerpt #1 on worship:
The traditional liturgy doesn't exist primarily to foster interpersonal relationships. It operates on a very different paradigm. In the liturgy we are, in a very real sense, objectively recognizing God for who he is. And in the midst of proclaiming who God is, we encounter God. At the end of the day, we may not be particularly drawn toward individuals, but in a good liturgy, we are drawn to God. We recognize him for who he is.
Excerpt #2 on making disciples:
We need to rediscover this ancient word, catechism. In a way, it is very straightforward. Its purpose is to help people become the body of Christ and be incorporated into the church. And I don't think that the modern church can improve very much on what has already been given: the creeds, the great commandments, the Lord's Prayer. Those are the basic things that help the church develop its identity as the church of Jesus Christ. We can certainly add other training programs, but I think the catechism should be central to any training of disciples.
So anyone want to guess who said this? These comments and many others like it were made by the Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan. Read the whole interview here.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spiritual Formation... with results..

So I refuse to turn this blog into just a series of YouTube videos... but this video, passed on to me by my friend Dan, is rather amusing. If only I could figure out a way to make it practical in the parish.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dancing with Jesus?

In a liturgy group (liturgy-l on yahoo groups for those interested) to which I belong, the following video was offered up... I can't see myself doing this, but I find it interesting. The congregation seems to be into it, as does the priest. I offer it up for your own viewing and comments...


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Seeking Jesus...

I picked up a copy of Frank Honeycutt's book Preaching to Skeptics and Seekers as a resource for a new ministry we will be beginning at our congregation very shortly. I started to glance through the book and saw that the foreword was written by William Willimon. I am sharing some excerpts from that foreword.

  • One of my problems with so-called seeker services and seeker-sensitive churches is that, in my pastoral experience, whatever most people are seeking, it isn't Jesus. We live in a society of omnivorous desire where people tend to grab at everything hoping that they might seize upon something that will give them a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. We are trained to be relentless consumers who think that our lives can be made worthwhile through the acquisition of things. In such a climate, it is too tempting for us preachers to reduce the Christian faith to just another lifestyle option, another means of making bascially good people even better, another way to get what you thought you wanted before you wanted Jesus.
  • Jesus is not the fulfillment of all of our desires; he is also a judgment upon many of our desires, the rearrangement of our need.
  • The Christian faith is more than an answer, a solution to a problem, a source of meaning for our lives. It is about taking up a cross, about following Jesus down a narrow, countercultural way that not everyone wants to walk.
  • It is not easy to be a preacher. It is a challenge to reach out beyond the comfortable boundaries of those who already share the Christian faith with us to engage the thos who do not yet know, much less follow, a crucified Savior. It is an even greater challenge to preach Jesus. Jesus tells us to go into all the world and teach and preach. Yet what Jesus wants preached and taught is often at considerable odds with the ways of the world. Sometimes our evangelistic fail, not because we failed to preach well, but because we preached Jesus.
  • Yet, by the grace of God, there is success. God grants us a hearing. The gospel's news has become good news for people who find to their surprise that, in all their seeking, Jesus was seeking them. They have, despite their misgivings as listeners and our mistakes as preachers, heard and believed. Their seeking and searching has found its goal and they are home. To be God's instrument in that homecoming is what the preacher seeks. In preaching to those who seek, we delightedly discover that we have all been lovingly sought and found.
I pray that I always preach Jesus so that those who are seeking know that Jesus is seeking them.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

God Is Not Great... once more into the fray

One of my parishioners passed on a link to Slate, where excerpts from God Is Not Great by Christopher Hutchins are being published (start reading them here). Only two excerpts in, we are left little room to misunderstand him. The human race is better off without religion, even if we have to bear with it until we evolve into higher beings that are no longer afraid of death (or the dark, or each other, or whatever--see his first excerpt "Religion Poisons Everything"). He, as can be expected, exalts reason and the salvation for humanity that lies therein. He is quite inflammatory. He claims in his second excerpt, "Was Muhammad Epileptic?" that
...Islam when examined is not much more than a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms, helping itself from earlier books and traditions as occasion appeared to require. Thus, far from being "born in the clear light of history," as Ernest Renan so generously phrased it, Islam in its origins is just as shady and approximate as those from which it took its borrowings. It makes immense claims for itself, invokes prostrate submission or "surrender" as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain. There is nothing—absolutely nothing—in its teachings that can even begin to justify such arrogance and presumption.
Even if he were criticizing Islam alone, I could not help but to speak against Hutchins. His line of reasoning is clearly anti-religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.

He posits four irreducible objections to religion, which are weak, in my opinion. He writes:
  1. it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos,
  2. that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism,
  3. that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and
  4. that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
His claim that religion is solipsistic is almost laughable, for when one looks at his irreducible objections, I believe it shows his own solipsism, particularly with objection number 3. It really is a shame that these are only excerpts, but to make an irreducible objection based on sexual repression, makes it sound to me that religion is bad because it does not allow him to put his member anywhere he desires. Who is more solipsistic here? Frankly I do not know if he understands the word "irreducible." For it seems to me that his objeciton should be based more on the imposition of limits, and a reduction of freedom (from his perspective at any rate), rather than simply sexual repression.

His ignorance is not just due to his lack of vocabulary, but his shallow understanding of what Christianity (which I believe is his ultimate target) is trying to do. He shows an understanding of only the basest and shallowest of Christian interpretations. As one who seeks to be most rational, he is attracted to only the least of the arguments. Is the objection to the creation of the cosmos done because it does not line up with scientific evidence? Is he aware that there are many Christians out there who simply point to the truth that the creation stories are meant to describe WHO made the cosmos, and not HOW the cosmos was made? Of course, his very premise disallows that the cosmos could be made at all by some all-powerful being.

He also makes the claim,
We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books. Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and—since there is no other metaphor—also the soul.
Is he aware of the deep religious foundations of many of the great authors? Dostoyevsky is nearly mystical in his novels. Could these great works of literature have been written without the foundational "morality tales of the holy books." If we are to take his claim that religion poisons everything, then we must call these books written in the days when Christianity permeated everything the subtlest of poisons. In The Brothers Karamazov, we must excise the tale of the Grand Inquisitor, as well as the tale of the selfish widow and the onion. What will be left? Or may we disguise our theological language in other dress? But what to do when we see that the Emperor has no clothes?

Hutchins laments that the great thinkers "Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman.... have written many evil things or many foolish things, and been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and why there will be no more of them tomorrow." And then he claims that
Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism, as did, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis for his refusal to collude with them. We shall have no more prophets or sages from the ancient quarter, which is why the devotions of today are only the echoing repetitions of yesterday, sometimes ratcheted up to screaming point so as to ward off the terrible emptiness.
Bonhoeffer? He claims Bonhoeffer had mutated into "admirable but nebulous humanism?" Bonhoeffer may be many things, but nebulous humanist? Certainly not! For Bonhoeffer, Jesus is the center of life, and he is most clear about that. Bonhoeffer is not just echoing repetitions of yesterday. Bonhoeffer was the mouthpiece for Christ speaking in this world now. Bonhoeffer is quite adamant about this Jesus.

Everything depends on whether one thinks that Jesus is the idealistic founder of a religion or the very Son of God. Nothing less that life and death of the human being hangs in the balance. If he was the idealistic founder of a religion, then I can be inspired by his accomplishments and motivated to imitate his zeal, but my sin is not forgiven. In this instance God is still angry with me, and I am under the power of death. Jesus’ work leads me in this case to total despair about myself.

If, however, the work of Christ is the work of God, then I am not summoned to act like God or to imitate God zealously, but instead I am convicted by this work as one who in no way can do it by myself. Rather I have found all at once the gracious God through this Jesus Christ, in this knowledge in this work. My sin has been forgiven. I am not dead but alive. It depends therefore on the person of Christ, whether his work is understood as passing away according to the old world of death or whether it is eternal according to a new world of life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology Lectures 1933

Hardly a humanist notion there...

In the end of the first excerpt, Hutchins simply wants to be left alone by we religious types. If he means that he desires me to stay away from him... so be it. If he means that he wants me to use only rational ideas as a basis for my ethical decisions, then we must clash and I must make known the God in whom I live and move and have my being. Christ is the center, and it is Christ who lives in me. I am sure that notion is repugnant to Hutchins, but it is only with Christ that we find true life.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brueggemann and Paul'sConversion

I have committed myself to preaching this Easter season on the great texts from Acts that always seem to get ignored. After all, if we are going to supplant the texts from the Hebrew Bible, we should pay attention to these replacements. I came across the site Theolog where this week Walter Brueggemann addresses Paul's conversion coming up for this week(read the article here).

I am intrigued by Brueggemann's move to not treat this as a general text meant for all Christians. Rather, Brueggemann focuses more intently on the particularity of Paul. Brueggemann writes:
My attention is drawn, however, not only to the change in Paul but also to the change in faith enacted by the spirit through Paul. Indeed the church is always running, even yet, to catch up with Paul in his radical, daring newness in the gospel. A sermon focus might be, not on the psychology of transformation and vocation, but on Paul’s transformed articulation of the gospel.
Brueggemann pushes me I think in the right direction.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

From the liturgy of the palms...

P: The Lord be with you.
C: And also with you.

P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
C: It is right to give God thanks and praise.

P: We praise and thank you, O God, for the great acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was acclaimed Son of David and King of kings by those who scattered their garments and branches of palm in his path.

We ask that you bless these branches and those who bear them, and grant that we may ever hail him as our Lord and King and follow him with perfect confidence; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
C: Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Man in Black...

From a friend in a yahoo group of mine... he gives the lyrics of one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Every time I am called a "black shirt" by one of my pastoral colleagues, who is aiming to shame me into getting me out of my clerical collar, I am reminded of this song.

Johnny Cash: Man In Black

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Triune God of Christian Faith

The God from whose womb of love each of us has been born is a tri-personal God in whom there is no relationship of domination or manipulation. Our faith in this triune God requires us to live out the implications of our trinitarian origin and goal in the mutuality of our respect, love and service to one another. Our trinitarian faith calls us to allow the triune God of interpersonal love to become increasingly transparent in us, in the way we relate to one another and especially to the most vulnerable and wounded among us and throughout the world. Then will our faith in the triune God become the mystery of love in which we more and more consciously “live and move and have our being.” The Trinity will be the living presence in and among us of the God whose love heals and transforms not only us, but also through us, the entire world.

Mary Ann Fatula

The Triune God of

Christian Faith

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Primary Theological Questions

I sent out an email to friends asking for primary theological questions that seekers might be wrestling with as they try to find meaning in life. A good friend, whose own email declares that she is a theology geek, replied quoting the Vatican II document, Nostra aetate. Her reply below is dead on.
Vatican II, Nostra aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,
Paragraph 1
"Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behavior, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What is judgment? What reward follows death? And finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?"
Paragraph 2
"Yet she [the Roman Catholic Church] proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fulness of their religious life."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Theological pet peeve of the day -- babies and sin

Trying to remain positive can be difficult. I don't want to be one who rants and raves about others, harshly critiquing, causing dissension and usually on this blog I think I maintain a positive stance. But for some reason, I run into bad theology surrounding certain topics from time to time, and now I have to expound on it or else I think I will lose my mind. So today's theological pet peeve is the reckoning of sin to babies on the ground of their "self-centeredness."

This idea today comes from a pastor friend of mine, for whom I have a great amount of respect, who usually thinks things through, but on this topic, I believe is completely and utterly wrong. And maybe I am so vexed by this problem, because I feel he ought to know better. And the reality is, he might, but being a new father himself, he is so wrapped up in the presence of a new child and the chaos that ensues in life, that going from experience is the best he can do right now.

So to the point at hand... I have heard this point made many times, usually by some lay person who heard a pastor teach this is a class, or proclaim it in a sermon. Usually the idea comes about because some parishioner has asked, "Pastor, why do we baptize babies? They are so innocent. What could that possibly have done that they would need to be forgiven?" It is at this point that the pastor falls to bad theology. Rather than challenge the view of sin of said parishioner (which is where the conversation needs to begin), they jump straight to the notion of innocence, and thus claim that babies are self-centered because they do not respect the needs of the mother or father, waking them at all odd hours of the night, crying, and generally driving them crazy among other things. At first hearing it might sound like a good explanation, and being the parent of two young children myself, I am tempted to grasp ahold of this and cling.

But it is pure and utter nonsense. Here is why we do not ground the basis of our theology on our experience. Experience allows us to ask "What's going on here?" but then we must proceed with Scripture and tradition.

Nowhere am I led to believe that infants are innocent. I believe that they are sinful creatures as the rest of us, but I will also hold that it is not their selfishness that is the proof. They are simply human, therefore sinful. The notion that they could not have done anything to merit this declaration is a reduction of the notion of sin to that of transgression. We transgress, break God's commandments, commit sins, of course; however those sins are a sign of our sinfulness. Those sins manifest the mark of Sin, the power at work in the world that has ruptured our fundamental relationships between God, between creation, between other humans, and even within ourselves. Sin is the brokeness that humans unleashed upon the world when we chose less than what God desired. The second article of the Augsburg Confession declares that all human beings who are born in the natural course of human life are sinful. Humans are "unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God." Humans from conception and birth have in essence a God-shaped hole in their selves that makes them less than what God wants them to be. Sin causes us to lack something essential in us that ruptures our relationships.

And by continuing to point to an infant's self-centeredness as a sign of sin, I believe we perpetuate the continued rupturing of relationship between us and this infant. This infant is utterly dependent upon the caregiver. Would a child be so demanding if the caregiver were to respect the utter dependence upon which this life hangs? By naming this child's dependence as self-centeredness, we are complicit in the power of sin because in the extreme, we might feel like we can ignore the pleads of the infant since after all it is just being sinful.

In fact, I might be tempted to argue that this infant's dependence on parents and other caregivers is precisely a model for us to ponder our total dependence upon God. We are to call upon God in every need, which is why God's name is such a precious gift. Of course in our sinfulness we don't often call out rightly, but when hungry, we can call upon God. When distressed, we can call upon God. When frightened and alone, we can call upon God. This infant is a model of godliness, and we call that sinful. But the power of sin can do that.


Friday, March 09, 2007


Living in a university town, our church building gets a number of requests for weddings. Not wanting to turn into a glorified wedding chapel, we have a clear policy. Weddings may be held only for congregational members OR members of other Lutheran congregations. After all, we recognize that we are connected to other Lutheran congregations through shared mission and polity. This week, I had a dilemma. A young couple, one of whom was Lutheran, needed a place to hold their wedding. I asked about the date. It ends up that their date is the day before another couple's wedding. That scheduled wedding also involves visiting Lutherans. The date is coming soon, so I needed to make a decision, host the second requested wedding, even if that meant only a slight overlap in the wedding of the one couple and the rehearsal of the second. If it were only so easy. The couple that already had the place scheduled is upset because now their decoration time is curtailed. They had assumed that they could decorate throughout the day. The experience that I have had was that decorating happened the morning of the wedding. Not so in this case. So now I am juggling several families... thankfully, the earlier wedding's couple is being very flexible.

Why are weddings such a thorn in the church's side? Why do so many pastors wail and moan the lost place of honor that marriages used to hold in societies? I think for one important reason. We have fallen into thinking that the proper way to honor marriage is to center our attention on the two being married. I cannot tell you how many people I hear use the phrase, "Well, it's their day." Presumably they could do anything they want if that is the case. I say, we fall into idolatry if leave our center of Christ.

Wait, you may say, lots of people are married who aren't Christian. Yes, but in the Church, we take on an additional and richer layer of meaning and responsibility. Our marriages (and presumably our wedding ceremony) are to be places where we live out our faith. We are in essence still bearing the cross, following Jesus, and as such we can never claim that it is our day. The only thing that we may say about any day is that it belongs to the Lord, and as such we are to live out our witness in thanksgiving and praise, and in discipleship.

In this belief, I may be another one who appears to be jousting at windmills. Our society is so good at diverting our attention toward ourselves, that it actually makes sense that we can talk about a wedding day belonging to the couple. In so doing, we open ourselves to idolatry. And we will pay that price.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The true gospel...

The keeper of a public brothel is less a sinner than the preacher who does not deliver the true gospel, and the brothel is not so bad as the false preacher's church.

-Martin Luther

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Margaret of Cortona - Single Mother - Feb 22

Despite an early sordid life as mistress and unwed mother, Margaret of Cortona is commemorated today. After the death of her paramour Montepulciano, Margaret turns to her family for sanctuary for her and her son. Her father rejects her plea, and Margaret is drawn to the Franciscans who, she understands, are compassionate toward sinners. Her life with them is not an easy one. The old life does not die immediately. Three years of struggle follow as she cares for the sickly poor. Finally she experiences a religious awakening, and she lives out the second half of her fifty years making penance for the first half.

Margaret is a remedy for those who want an immediate and drastic change in one who recognizes that he or she has hit rock bottom. In conversation once a friend told me that as soon as someone recognizes the problem (addiction, greed, etc.), the problematic behavior should stop since the problem is known. Perhaps no saying is truer, "Old habits die hard." And new habits, particularly the new habits of the new life, are almost impossible to form when surrounded by the old. Once the old habits are removed, it still takes perserverance to form the new one. We find the stories of dramatic conversion and repentance to be moving and inspiring. What we need, I think, more are stories like Margaret which tell of a never-ending love of God who seeks out and continues to transform our lives in the midst of persistent sin. Those are saints I can relate to much more readily than the paragons of perfection.

The story of Margaret is also important for all who run into the persistent brokenness of people's lives. Poverty, drug addiction, infidelity, bad choices... all of these are deeply ingrained manifestations of the sin rampant in the world. We must be ready for a long process of movement from the dark to light. We must not give in to the result-driven perspective of our society. We are formed to run with endurance, to bear the cross, hanging in there with those who are engaged in the struggle to challenge, exhort, evangelize, and be Christ to them.

Grace and peace.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Attitudes in Christian worship... #1 of 8

Adoration. Adoration is an acknowledgement of God's transcendence made possible by the fact that he is also self-giving. The original religious impulse to prostrate oneself upon the sudden appearance of the overwhelming Numen is ritualized into bows and genuflexions in the context of cultic repetition. In biblical religion, the experience of the mysterium tremendum et fascinosum has taken on a personal and ethical character. The Wholly Other has become the transcendent Creator: 'Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker' (Psalm 95:6). If he inspires fear, it is on account of his power and purity; if he attracts it is by his creating love and redeeming grace. If the creature feels fear, it is on account of his own weakness and sin; if he is drawn toward God, it is because the love that made him will not let him go: 'Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.' We can go farther: God's power shows grace to transform the sinner. Love casts out fear: Christians are no longer craven slaves but have become sons and daughters. Whether in power and purity or in love and grace, worshippers can do no more than tautologously ascribe 'holiness' to him. When in the liturgy we cry 'Holy, holy, holy,' we say that we are joining our voices to the ceaseless songs of the angelic hosts. That is further symbolic recognition of God's transcendence. His majesty is sometimes indirectly indicated by the description of his entourage of heavenly beings....
The language of adoration pays homage to the surpassing majesty of God and sings his amazing love for his creatures and his unexampled grace for sinners. At times, adoration will pass over the linguistic horizon into silence. Even that silence is directed toward God, and it is qualified by what the stammering tongue has been straining to say.
Geoffery Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life

Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Monday, February 19, 2007

Boniface of Lausanne... Feb. 19 -- Bishop and teacher

Boniface of Lausanne (Bishop and teacher, d. .1265) is commemorated today, Feb. 19. He only served nine years as bishop of Lausanne, since he had the temerity to publicly scold the EMPEROR and local clergy for their corruption. In speaking of Boniface, Butler's Lives of the Saints talks of his living the Christian life in "quiet desperation." The text says,
As has been true of so many who labor for Christ, Boniface ran into years of opposition and misunderstanding. Exasperated, he publicly expressed his poor opinion of the clergy who worked with him. Opposition intensified, and Emperor Frederick II also began to work against Boniface. An unruly group of men ambushed and seriously wounded him in 1239. Weak and competely discouraged, he resigned his post as bishop and returned to Brussels and the nuns at La Cambre (where he had been educated as a young boy).

For many of us, we buy into the notion that the good life is one that brings about results. The only struggle worth engaging in, we are told, is one where we can change things, gain results. But the Christian life is precisely not about results... at least outward, per se. As a Christian we engage in a struggle where God alone will bring about results... at the end. Now, we are called to engage in the struggle where we are sanctified. We are built up by practicing fortitude.

My only concern about Butler's text is where it says Boniface was weak and completely discouraged. As long as "completely discouraged" does not mean despair, then I am fine with that... but we must continue to hope that God is active in our lives and our words and deeds, even if we cannot see it at the moment.

For all who labor for Christ, we should hear that we do not labor in vain, even if we continually run into opposition. We should see that we are signposts to God's fortitude and never-ending desire to bring about the Kingdom.


Monday, February 12, 2007

I've been "Kind-n-ized"

Ok... so I went to the local hospital today to do a visit, and I stopped at the guard kiosk to get my parking pass, when he hands me a United Way "Random Acts of Kindness" card which tells me "You've been KIND-n-ized." So evidently this week is random acts of kindness week, and I should be all for it, right? Except, number one... a security guard sitting in a booth handing me a card doesn't make it all that clear exactly WHAT kindness I have been shown. I was just confused afterward.

And I am not at all for having a Random Acts of Kindness Week. As Christians we are called to love others, which might not be kind at all. And let's not be random at all please. Can we make our whole lives reflect the love we have been shown by the Triune God? Can we exhibit the charity that goes with being a disciple of Jesus Christ?

How many of these random acts of kindness are simply meant to evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling in people? Can I pass on being randomly kind, and instead live out my friendship with God consistently and continually? Why do we raise up this week as something special? It really should not be.

What we must wrestle with is the issue of what is the character of the Church. Are we a volunteer organization that seeks to occassionally reach out, or do we show God's love and mercy even when it hurts, bearing the cross?

So instead of Random Acts of Kindness, let's focus instead on the works of mercy, which are:

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • Feeding the hungry
  • Giving drink to the thirsty
  • Clothing the naked
  • Harboring the stranger
  • Visiting the sick
  • Ministering to prisoners
  • Burying the dead

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • Admonishing the sinner
  • Instructing the ignorant
  • Counseling the doubtful
  • Comforting the afflicted
  • Bearing wrongs patiently
  • Forgiving injuries
  • Praying for the living and the dead

Monday, January 22, 2007

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

So I realize that this post comes late in this week of prayer, but I think it is necessary nonetheless. If we confess that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, but truly treat it as if we are just fine with the divisions that currently exist, then we lie in our confession. To spiritualize our unity we share in Christ Jesus, and make no effort to mutually build up our belief, our witness, our faith, then we fall into parochial thinking that damages the witness of our faith. All Christians should be appalled by the division that exists in the body of Christ... no matter the reason. And there is absolutely no reason that we should follow the rules of playground ecumenism taking our ball home when we reach the slightest disagreement and discomfort when others shine light on our own shortcomings.

John Paul II writes in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint the following.

This truth about dialogue, so profoundly expressed by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam,52 was also taken up by the Council in its teaching and ecumenical activity. Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way it is always an "exchange of gifts".53

29. For this reason, the Council's Decree on Ecumenism also emphasizes the importance of "every effort to eliminate words, judgments, and actions which do not respond to the condition of separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations between them more difficult".54 The Decree approaches the question from the standpoint of the Catholic Church and refers to the criteria which she must apply in relation to other Christians. In all this, however, reciprocity is required. To follow these criteria is a commitment of each of the parties which desire to enter into dialogue and it is a precondition for starting such dialogue. It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognizes the other as a partner. When undertaking dialogue, each side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity in truth. For this to happen, any display of mutual opposition must disappear. Only thus will dialogue help to overcome division and lead us closer to unity.

To recognize the other as a partner and not an opponent is something that truly demands the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the dialogues. We must move from a posture of hostility to one of hospitality. Sometimes that hospitality might not be the most comfortable, but we must learn to see in those actions the graciousness of not assuming the worst and a desire to work towards more visible unity.

For many Lutherans, they see the document Dominus Iesus as a step backward in ecumenical outlook, blaming then Cardinal Ratzinger for a deterioration of ecumenism. Of course, it seems to be completely in keeping with Roman Catholic teaching. And to look at the whole picture, one should also look at the attempt of Ratzinger to save the discussions (single-handedly) that produced the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (read a previous post here about this).

At the same time, Lutherans would be well advised in this spirit of reciprocity to stop treating the Augsburg Confession as some sort of declaration of ecclesiastical independence. At its heart, the Augsburg Confession is precisely an ecumenical document that sought reform and reconciliation between two parties. It is important to note here that the Reformers did not leave but were essentially exiled. During this week of prayer, one thanksgiving to raise up is that there is conversation and dialogue that seeks to end the exile, even if it is difficult.

So what is the alternative to playground ecumenism, where we stomp away when we don't get our way? How about a courtship ecumenism? Courting one's future spouse can be a difficult task... hard decisions need to be made, there must be trust that each partner is working toward a more visible union, and the results are meant to be permanent. As the Church works toward and waits for the marriage feast that has no end, it seems only fitting that we divided members be preparing now for the relationship that will exist for eternity.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cheer Up Charlie...

I downloaded the self-titled album from the group Cheer Up Charlie at I think it is really good. The music is lively and the lyrics are not of the insipid "I-me-My-me" variety that abounds in contemporary Christian music. I cannot remember hearing at all any lyrics that are easily adaptable into a teenage love song (you know, "I'm so glad you're in my life..."). Cheer Up Charlie's lyrics evoke some contemplation, even from me... Take for example their song We Cry Out.
We cry out by Bradley DeRosia Hugh Butler

In faith we live a Godly life
Rejecting sin, a daily fight

There’s no changing tide
That will shake our lives
So in Him we’ll find a way

We cry out to the Son again
We cry out to be whole again
We cry out for your grace and love again
We cry out

The precious blood that paid the price
Still draws us near, from dark to light

There’s no changing tide
That will shake our lives
So in Him we’ll find a way

We cry out to the Son again
We cry out to be whole again
We cry out for your grace and love again
We cry out

We cry out to the Son again
We cry out to be whole again
We cry out for your grace and love again
We cry out
First the lyrics are first person PLURAL. We... WE cry out... evidently there is a group out there who recognize the brokeness of the world, and seek to reject that brokeness, that sin. This same collective group recognizes a source of healing and wholeness.

Second there are serious Eucharistic overtones. I heard them for the first time today while listnening. "The precious blood that paid the price" could certainly refer to the cross when Christ is offered up for all, but the following line says more, "still draws us near from dark to light." This drawing near is not just a remembrance of the crucifixion, but something active today. The precious blood which still draws us near is found when that aforementioned group gathers for worship. There the gospel is made real and concrete and placed in our hands as the precious body and blood seeking to make us whole... And of course I heard the Eucharistic prayer where I have said time and again, "We cry out for the resurrection of our lives when Christ will come to share with us the great and promised feast."

Here found in a piece of contemporary Christian music is a piece worthy of contemplation in praise of the mystery of the Eucharist.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

How Lutheran?

You are 100% Lutheran! This is most certainly true.

Nicely done! Martin would be proud of you! You may or may not have room for growth in understanding Lutheran terminology and culture. Good thing Salvation is by Grace and not by merit. We can add nothing to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. But it never hurts to learn a little more about the church on earth. Thanks for taking the quiz!

How Lutheran Are You?
Create a Quiz

Ok I did score 100% on my first try but I'll admit I guessed at a few...


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Elizabeth Ann Seton -- Renewer of Society -- Jan 4

Elizabeth Ann Seton began the parochial school system for Roman Catholics in the U.S. by starting a Catholic girls' school in Baltimore, Maryland after she had started one to support her and her children after her husband died. She also took vows and began the Daughters of Charity of St. Joseph in 1809. Many of the sisters in that order staff hospitals and other care facilities.

Despite being born into a life of wealth and prestige, Elizabeth Ann Seton shows for us the power of the transformed life, one lived out in sacrifice and devotion to Christ.

Her life of sacrifice can point us to Christ, who also lived a life of sacrifice insofar as he was completely devoted to the Father. Seton's life is one that points to a complete trust in God's providence, when after losing all she had, wealth, honor, and her husband, she continues to trust and work for God by establishing religious schools based on models of religious communities. When she began her first school, the school was a means to support her and her children. At the same time she was carrying out a ministry.

Near her death, she wrote the following statement of faith.

Link by link, the blessed chain
One Body in Christ -- He the head we the members
One Spirit diffused thru' the Holy Ghost in us all
One Hope -- Him in heaven and Eternity
One Faith--by his Word and his Church
One Baptism and participation of his sacraments
One God our dear Lord
One Father We his children--he above all through all and in all.
Who can resist, all self must be killed and destroyed by this artillery of love-- one, one, one. Who could escape this bond of unity, peace, and love? O my soul, be fastened link by link, strong as death, iron, and Hell as says the sacred Word.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Basil the Great -- Doctor of the Church-- January 2

Don't you just hate it when you click "save as draft" when you really meant to hit publish... grrr....

Generally commemorated on June 14 in the ELCA breviary with the other two Cappadocian Fathers ( he and the other two Gregorys... of Nyssa and of Nazianzus), Basil is commemorated today in the Roman calendar, and frankly given the importance of these three, each really should receive their own date. Butler's Lives of the Saints says,
Basil the Great lived during the height of the Arian controversy (239-379), and he had an important part in the process of resisting it.... Basil worked against steady opposition and received little support from other leaders in the Church even as he was championing the Church's teachings. Libraries preserve many of his books and letters today. The members of his flock loved him because he was an outstanding pastor who often visited among them. He preached to large gatherings twice a day, took care of the poor, and had a hospital built. One of the great personalities in church history, Basil did superlative and enduring in one of the most difficult times the Church has ever faced.
Briefly, Arias and his school taught that ultimately that the Son (Trinitarian language) was a creature far surpassing any other creature of the world, but made nonetheless by God the Father. The Son merely becomes a demigod and loses actual knowledge of God, which if God is truly transcendent, no mere creature however exalted, could know.

Basil offers an example not just of the defense of the faith, but of perserverance in the faith. In a world where everyone expects a quick fix, or maybe a compromise, Basil reminds us that there are some things worth staying in for the long haul. Had the Church compromised on this doctrine, something essential would have been lost. Jesus as the Son of God is important not because he is another creature like one of us, but because he is God who dwells with us carrying knowledge (not mere information, but relational knowledge) of the Father and Spirit. If there was a time when the Son was not (which Arias taught since the Son was made by the Father), then there is no way to claim that the Son shared divinity in any meaningful sense.

Let us all perservere in the faith.